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“Abs Are Made in the Kitchen”: How and Why

Updated: May 27, 2023


man prepping vegetables

When it comes to achieving a sculpted, chiseled midsection, you may have come across the popular phrase, "Abs are made in the kitchen." While exercise is undoubtedly essential for building core strength and muscle definition, this refrain emphasizes the crucial role that nutrition plays in obtaining those coveted six-pack abs. In this article, we'll explore the meaning behind how and why abs are made in the kitchen, and explore the science behind how your diet is the key factor to impact your abdominal muscles.


Breaking down the phrase:

"Abs are made in the kitchen" encapsulates the idea that the path to a toned core lies not only in rigorous exercise routines but also in maintaining a healthy and balanced diet. It suggests that no number of abdominal exercises will visually give you six-pack abs. Everyone has abdominal muscles, even the person that has never set foot in the gym. The key to unveiling a well-defined midsection lies in reducing body fat percentage, which is primarily influenced by your dietary choices. Only doing crunches or sit-ups indefinitely will not result in a toned midsection. Even if you have strong and developed abdominal muscles, they may remain hidden beneath a layer of fat without a proper diet.


Body Fat Percentage:

First, it's important to break down body fat percentages, so we can have an idea of when abs start becoming more visible and pronounced. Body fat percentage measures the amount of fat in your body relative to your total body weight. It provides a more accurate assessment of body composition. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) provides the following body fat percentage categories:


- Essential fat: Men: 2-5%, Women: 10-13%

- Athletes: Men: 6-13%, Women: 14-20%

- Fitness: Men: 14-17%, Women: 21-24%

- Acceptable: Men: 18-24%, Women: 25-31%

- Obese: Men: 25%+, Women: 32%+


Men and Women can expect to see abdominal muscles within the ‘Fitness’ ranges of body fat percentage, at this range most abs are visible. When reaching the ‘Athlete’ ranges of body fat you will see all abs visible including obliques, v-cut lines, and serratus muscles, although the lower ranges are not sustainable long term and can be detrimental to overall health.


Now that you know what percentage of body fat is needed to have visible abs you have set yourself a goal. Let’s look at how to reach it:


Caloric Balance: To reveal your abdominal muscles, you must create a calorie deficit, wherein your body burns more calories than it consumes. This can be achieved by consuming fewer calories or increasing your physical activity level. A combination of both is often recommended for optimal results. Establish your maintenance caloric intake (Find out what this number is here), these are the calories that you currently eat on a regular day-to-day basis. Now that you know this maintenance level, you want to start by decreasing your caloric intake by 200-300 calories per day. Next, you will track your caloric intake by achieving your macronutrient goals, aka tracking your macros. Lowering your calories too much too fast may make it difficult for you to maintain consistency, will create more hunger responses, and may cause you to hit a plateau rapidly.


Macronutrient Tracking: Balancing macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fats—is essential for achieving a healthy body composition. Protein plays a crucial role in repairing and building muscle tissue, while carbohydrates provide energy for workouts and aid in recovery. Healthy fats, such as those found in avocados or nuts, support hormone production and overall well-being. When choosing a macronutrient ratio, you may often hear that consuming .5-1g of protein per pound of body weight is a good range. Studies show that high-protein, low-fat diets are superior for weight loss and healthier body composition compared to a standard protein, low-fat diet (1). These diets provide the best responses in resting energy expenditure (calories burned at rest), and satiety and appetite (1, 4).


Nevertheless, the best factor leading to weight loss is adherence to a low-calorie diet, so after adjusting protein intake, you should decide whether your body responds well by allocating calories to either fats or carbs. When consuming carbs, you should consider regularly consuming fiber. Dietary fiber has been proven to significantly enhance weight loss and improve issues such as insulin sensitivity (2). Average fiber intakes for U.S. children and adults are less than half of the recommended levels (2).


Nutrient Timing: Paying attention to when you consume your meals can also impact your abdominal development. For instance, consuming protein-rich meals before and after workouts can aid in muscle repair and growth. Additionally, spacing out meals throughout the day helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and prevents overeating. One particular study showed that post-prandial thermogenesis increased 100% on a high-protein, low-fat diet vs. a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet (3). The data may indicate the energy cost associated with high-protein diets for weight loss. In another study, consuming increased protein (at least 35% of energy) more frequently, 6 times throughout the day, decreases total body fat, abdominal body fat, and overall body weight (4).


Whole Foods and Micronutrients: Emphasizing whole, unprocessed foods ensures that you consume an array of essential micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals that support overall health and muscle function. Leafy greens, fruits, lean meats, and whole grains are excellent choices to include in your diet. Skip the processed foods and focus on whole foods and fresh produce. Food options should be high in fiber, and protein, and you should stick to unsaturated fats. Also, watch out for the sneaky calories! These include things like juices or sodas, condiments, excessive alcohol, and calorically dense foods which usually are processed foods. If it's pre-packaged, double-check the nutrition label.


Some advocators of the If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) approach argue that 100 calories remain the same amount of energy regardless of the source. While this may be true in the sense of giving food a numeric value, not all calories are created equal. The composition of macro- and micronutrients in foods can have a direct effect on satiety, metabolic rate, and even hormonal response (5).


Balancing Exercise and Nutrition:

While proper nutrition is pivotal in revealing your abdominal muscles, it doesn't diminish the importance of targeted exercises. Combining a well-balanced diet with a focused exercise routine that engages your core muscles will yield the best results. Incorporating exercises like planks, crunches, leg raises, and oblique twists will help strengthen and define your abs. By building your abdominal muscles you will be able to see more pronounced muscles in your core as you drop fat percentages. Building muscle mass can support fat loss because muscles are metabolically efficient. One study found that 9 months of resistance training in one group increased resting metabolic rate by 5% on average (6). A combination of weights and cardio, with adequate nutrition, can rapidly lead to body recomposition and weight loss.



woman doing crunches

Making Abs in your own Kitchen:

It's important to adopt healthy lifestyle habits rather than resorting to quick-fix diets or extreme measures. Here are some tips to develop a healthy relationship with food and fitness:

1. Consistency: Consistency is key when it comes to achieving any fitness goal. Make healthy eating and regular exercise a part of your daily routine. Eating healthy does not have to be boring or bland. There are many great macro-friendly recipes out there that can be adjusted to your eating preferences.


2. Portion Control: Be mindful of portion sizes to ensure you're consuming an appropriate number of calories for your goals. The best way to do this is to Track Your Macros, it is essential because we often tend to underestimate the caloric density of certain foods.


3. Hydration: Stay adequately hydrated throughout the day, as water plays a crucial role in digestion, metabolism, and overall well-being. Some clinical studies have shown that 37% of people mistake their bodies' thirst signals for hunger signals. Additionally, water can boost your metabolism, which can help you burn more calories throughout the day.


4. Sleep and Stress Management: Prioritize quality sleep and adopt stress management techniques like meditation or yoga, as they contribute to better overall health and aid in achieving fitness goals. Your body releases many hormones during sleep essential to muscular hypertrophy, weight management, and overall recovery and repair.


Conclusion:

While exercise is essential for strengthening and toning your core muscles, the phrase "Abs are made in the kitchen" emphasizes the significant role that nutrition plays in revealing those sought-after abs. Remember, building a healthy relationship with food and fitness is a lifelong journey that requires consistency, commitment, and a focus on overall well-being.


Before starting any fitness program or making dietary changes, including supplementation, please consult your physician for a thorough examination.


Sources
  1. Wycherley TP, Moran LJ, Clifton PM, Noakes M, Brinkworth GD. Effects of energy-restricted high-protein, low-fat compared with standard-protein, low-fat diets: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Dec;96(6):1281-98. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.044321. Epub 2012 Oct 24. PMID: 23097268.

  2. Anderson JW, Baird P, Davis RH Jr, Ferreri S, Knudtson M, Koraym A, Waters V, Williams CL. Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutr Rev. 2009 Apr;67(4):188-205. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x. PMID: 19335713.

  3. Johnston CS, Day CS, Swan PD. Postprandial thermogenesis is increased 100% on a high-protein, low-fat diet versus a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet in healthy, young women. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002 Feb;21(1):55-61. doi:10.1080/07315724.2002.10719194. PMID: 11838888.

  4. Arciero PJ, Ormsbee MJ, Gentile CL, Nindl BC, Brestoff JR, Ruby M. Increased protein intake and meal frequency reduces abdominal fat during energy balance and energy deficit. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Jul;21(7):1357-66. doi: 10.1002/oby.20296. Epub 2013 May 23. PMID: 23703835.

  5. Calton JB. Prevalence of micronutrient deficiency in popular diet plans. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 Jun 10;7:24. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-7-24. PMID: 20537171; PMCID: PMC2905334.

  6. Aristizabal JC, Freidenreich DJ, Volk BM, Kupchak BR, Saenz C, Maresh CM, Kraemer WJ, Volek JS. Effect of resistance training on resting metabolic rate and its estimation by a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry metabolic map. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015 Jul;69(7):831-6. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2014.216. Epub 2014 Oct 8. PMID: 25293431.

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